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Tech Lab Plus

Make any computer your own with USD device

Pocket Desktop portable operating system

$19.95 for 4-gigabyte version, $39.95 for 8 gigabytes, or $59.95 for 16 gigabytes at
getthekey.com

You can’t carry a complete desktop computer in your pocket, but here’s the next best thing: a USB device that lets you turn any laptop or desktop PC into your own machine, while preserving your privacy.

The Pocket Desktop contains a copy of the Linux operating system and a stack of popular free software. It also­ has a good deal of empty storage space where you can stash music, photos, or documents. You just plug it into a computer’s USB port and reboot the machine, while holding down the “boot menu” key — usually the F12key. This makes the computer boot from the USB drive instead of its own hard drive. The process takes a few seconds.

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Now the computer becomes your own. You can use the Pocket Desktop’s software to create or edit documents, send and receive e-mails, and play favorite tunes. Once you’re done, just reboot the computer and unplug the Pocket Desktop. Your secrets are safe, because everything stays on the USB drive; nothing is stored on the PC.

The Pocket Desktop is more expensive than it ought to be, given its use of free software and the low cost of USB flash memory. But it’s an excellent way to protect your privacy when using someone else’s computer.

Constant Guard Mobile security app

Free for iOS devices at Apple’s App Store. Android version under development. Requires subscription to Comcast Corp.’s Xfinity Internet service.

The cable company isn’t in the habit of giving stuff away. But this freebie security app for mobile ­devices is an offer worth checking out.

Constant Guard is like a little data vault for your smartphone. Here you can store your passwords for vital online services — your bank, e-mail, or social networking services such as Facebook. Constant Guard lets you log into the services automatically. The system isn’t perfect — it wouldn’t work properly with my Bank of America account. But it did fine with my credit union, as well as with Facebook and Hotmail.

Constant Guard also offers a secure Google search window. It scans the results of your searches to warn you away from visiting illicit websites that might try to plant malware on your computer. ­Also, you can store your credit card data inside Constant Guard and automatically enter the number when you’re shopping at an e-commerce site. The ­entire app is locked down when not in use; you must enter a PIN number to access its secrets.

If you lose your phone, Constant Guard could prevent you from losing quite a bit more.

CoPilot Live Premium HD navigation app

$9.99 for Android devices; $14.99 for iOS Devices at Apple’s App Store

Now that Apple is providing free turn-by-turn driving directions on the iPhone, there’s no need to buy a separate navigation app. But this one is so cool that you might want to purchase it anyway.

CoPilot Live lets you download maps of the entire United States, so you can keep the maps permanently on your phone. That way you can look up navigation data even when you’re offline. The maps take up about 3 gigabytes of storage space, but you can economize by downloading packages of regional maps. For instance, if you rarely leave New England, download the map pack for the Northeast.

Also, CoPilot Live can work on the iPod Touch, a device that does not have a built-in GPS chip. That’s because it can use signals from nearby Wi-Fi hot spots to calculate where you are. It’s not as precise as GPS, but it will do in a pinch.

CoPilot Live has a bunch of other clever features. If you use your iDevice to take geo-tagged photos, CoPilot can instantly display a map showing where each picture was taken. I also like the animated driving route preview, which explains exactly how to get where you’re going.

In all, CoPilot Live has enough smart features to justify its quite ­reasonable price.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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